"Quack, quack! Moo!" When I was five years old, this was the only way I could communicate with my uncle's neighbor, Lydia. She is Amish and didn't speak a word of English, only German. Though her farm in Pennsylvania is huge, with a large barn and never-ending fields, her house is quite small, especially considering she is one of four kids. It used to be easy for us to get together when I visited my uncle but now that she is older, it is getting harder. It is too bad since now that she speaks much more English, it is even more fun to be with her. When I look at our lives, I am amazed how different they are.
Rising early each day, she cares for her little brother, cleans up the house, and helps make breakfast. During the day she goes to school, then helps in the barn and watches her brother. Only after she is done with her chores can she do what she wants, which means that if I want to see her, I have to plan for the time between when she finishes her chores and dinner. I usually manage to see her at least once when I am visiting. When she goes in for dinner, she stays in for the night.
Knowing what she does every day makes me see my life differently. When I complain about little things like vacuuming or loading the dishwasher, I sound so spoiled. Lydia has always had to do things without the help of electrical appliances.
Lydia's family uses no electricity. Without a computer or a television to distract her, she has more time to focus on chores and things she is expected to do. Sometimes I complain about wearing a uniform to school, but she wears the same clothing every day of her life and barely gives it a second thought.
Sometimes I wish I didn't have all those material things so I would appreciate more what I have. It seems like she has gotten much more out of her life. I don't think I could ever repay her for the impact she has had on me. Talking to her and seeing how she lives makes me look at the world as if I were looking through the eyes of a stranger.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.